Mark Peters

Mark Peters

I want to begin by admitting something: I really do not like wearing a face mask. That mask is hot and inconvenient and makes it difficult to breathe. Those who wear glasses tell me their masks fog them. There is nothing pleasant about the experience.

But I wear my mask. When I go to the grocery store, pick up dinner at a restaurant, or encounter people anywhere else.

I do so out of concern for my fellow citizens and because, as a scientist, I respect recommendations supported by experts in their field.

One such expert is Dr. Martin Mangan, an occupational physician at Idaho National Laboratory. During a recent town hall videoconference for INL employees, Dr. Mangan said masking is the single most effective action employees can take in the workplace to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Another expert, Dr. Kenneth Krell, a critical care physician at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, said much the same in an op-ed recently published in the Idaho Falls Post Register.

“Masks complement social distancing, hand hygiene and surface disinfecting,” Dr. Krell wrote. “Each has a distinct and complementary role.”

Later, Dr. Krell wrote, “We wear masks for others’ protection more than ourselves.”

I share Dr. Krell’s concern about going out in public and seeing waves of unmasked people. I can only imagine how our grocery store clerks, health care professionals, or any other essential employees feel given what we know about asymptomatic spread.

Many front-line workers, and our neighbors who are vulnerable to the coronavirus based on age or underlying medical conditions, likely are afraid.

Some may be disappointed that fellow citizens do not appear concerned about their safety or the well-being of the families they go home to when their shift ends.

Obviously, I have no idea if you are wearing masks in public. I hope you are. I hope all Idahoans are willing to follow CDC recommendations, Gov. Brad Little’s guidelines, and expert advice from health care professionals such as Dr. Mangan and Dr. Krell.

The facts tell us we are not out of the woods. Data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare indicates that while the overall trend of confirmed daily cases is reaching a plateau, the numbers continue to spike on some days. Health authorities assume total COVID-19 cases are higher because everyone has not been tested.

Seventeen Idaho counties have established community spread. Five are in eastern Idaho.

At INL not everyone agrees on the need to wear masks in cubicles. But wearing masks in INL facilities is our new normal.

Masking becomes even more important as businesses begin to reopen and our interactions increase.

If all of us, including INL’s 5,000 employees and their families, committed to wearing a mask when we go out, public safety would increase.

We would show respect to essential workers and do our part in preventing a new wave of COVID-19, which carries devastating health and economic implications.

Yes, wearing a mask is uncomfortable and unpleasant. But, out of respect for the facts as we know them and concern for our fellow citizens, we can endure this.

We can set a great example and make a positive difference every time we leave our homes.

Mark Peters is director at Idaho National Laboratory.